As you might expect from the very first pre-season outing, the game itself was nothing to write home about. The Gunners ran out easy 4-0 winners with most of the damage being done by the first half line-up. Andrey Arshavin grabbed the first when he put the finishing touch to an extensive passing move in the second minute. In the remainder of the half Jay Simpson converted two Jack Wilshere assists to make it 3-0 at the break.
The second forty-five minutes saw an entirely new eleven players and was a more muted half. Samir Nasri helped himself to a goal when one of the Barnet defenders stood on the ball leaving the Frenchman with only the goalkeeper to beat - which he did with aplomb.
Other observations from the day:
The team looked magnificent in their new kit. At last, a return to a proper Arsenal kit with proper white sleeves. We can go into next season with opponents knowing they are facing Arsenal Football Club instead of wondering if Charlton Athletic had turned up by mistake.
The summer’s two new signings made their first public appearances this afternoon. It is impossible to pass judgement on them at a game like this but early impressions are that Marouane Chamakh showed signs of playing very much like a classic English centre-forward. He is tall, played a lot of the time with his back to goal and looked adept at bringing others into the game. Not much came his way in terms of chances so there wasn't much to go on in terms of knowing what his finishing is like. He did look a little heavy-legged but he is bound to be short of fitness at this point in time.
Laurent Koscielny didn’t have much to do defensively during his first-half appearance. Most notable though was the slightness of his physical build. He is virtually the same height as Thomas Vermaelen - who is not exactly the tallest - but looks nowhere near as muscular and strong as the Belgian. Whether Arsene Wenger sees him as Vermaelen’s first-choice partner remains to be seen but, from today’s evidence, the manager ought to still be looking to add some genuine height to the middle of his back four.
Of the youngsters that turned out, most eyes were on Jack Wilshere. He had a patchy 45 minutes but did do some good things and his two assists for Jay Simpson showed composure and accuracy. The most impressive of the Young Guns on display though was Emmanuel Frimpong. His performance as the anchor in midfield was a major contribution to Arsenal’s dominance during the first period. Even at this early stage of the season, he showed tenacity, competitiveness and made more tackles than any other player all afternoon. He is built like a tank and those who have watched him come through the youth team ranks already know about his physical presence and strength but they also know he can play too. If Arsene Wenger was looking to mould a young player to be a successor to (or even competition for) Alex Song in the role of midfield enforcer, then Frimpong looks the most likely candidate to make that step up from within the youth ranks. Time will tell as to whether that will happen this season or next.
So, Arsene Wenger takes his squad off to their Austrian training camp on Monday night and the business of preparing for the new season starts in earnest. There is still much talk about potential new signings and it is hard to believe that there won’t be more new additions before the big kick-off in August. However, the one thing Arsenal supporters want to definitively know before then is whether Cesc Fabregas will be captaining the team next season.
The Gunners have maintained a dignified silence on this matter over the weeks of the World Cup. Their position is crystal-clear - Arsenal want Fabregas to stay and he is not for sale at any price. It is a shame that Barcelona are not hearing that and their players have not been able to keep their mouths shut. Carrying on where they left off at the end of last season, throughout the World Cup, all we have heard is Barca players talking about Cesc and his DNA. On and on and on and on they have droned all summer long, culminating in the grotesque spectacle of Puyol and Pique pulling a Barcelona shirt over Fabregas’s head at Spain’s victory parade.
Reams have been written online and in the media about the way Barcelona, their players and the Spanish press have acted with regard to trying to sign Cesc. It has been sordid, classless and is nothing more than tapping up by proxy. Arsenal fans ought to be proud of the way our club has conducted themselves through this onslaught. The club might have risen above it but feelings of Arsenal fans were perfectly summed up by a banner erected at the north end of Barnet’s ground today: “Barca, F**k You”.
All that said, no matter how much Arsenal might not want to sell him and however much Xavi, Puyol et al might keep talking to the press, only one man has the answer to how all this is going to turn out - and that is Cesc himself. Ultimately, if he wants to leave then, despite his contract, there will not be much Arsenal can do except try to take Barcelona for every Euro they have got - or rather, every Euro they can borrow at the moment. (If he says at Arsenal, at least he knows he will get paid at the end of every month.)
Following the Barnet match Arsene Wenger said that all the speculation about Fabregas needs to stop. The only way it will stop is if Cesc comes out and states his intentions clearly as to whether he is staying or going. And the sooner that happens the better. If Arsenal have to plan a future without him, then he ought to extend them the courtesy of giving as much notice as possible of that. Better though, would be for him to tell Barcelona, “thanks but no thanks” and commit himself to the Gunners for next season. Either way, absolute clarity on this matter is needed soon.
It’s make your mind up time, Cesc.